Carriers like Verizon(s vz)(s vod) and AT&T(s t) are trying to convince Netflix(s nflx) to pay for the bandwidth its subscribers consume on their networks. Today Netflix delivered a rather oblique response. It’s giving its iPhone(s aapl) customers the option of turning off cellular access to Netflix completely and instead rely on old-fashioned Wi-Fi to deliver their movies and TV shows.
With more and more customers moving off carriers’ old unlimited data plans to tiered data buckets, streaming any reasonable quantity of video is all but impossible without incurring major overage charges. In its latest update to its iPhone and iPad apps, though, customers can toggle on and off 3G/4G connectivity. It may mean sacrificing Netflix access everywhere, but it could help them avoid rather unpleasant phone bills at the end of the month.
There are still a few unlimited options out there for iPhone users. You can stream to your heart’s content on Sprint’s 3G network. There are still millions of customers grandfathered into Verizon and AT&Ts’ old unlimited plans, but both operators have begun throttling back speeds once customers hit unspecified – and seemingly arbitrary – thresholds, making video streaming all but useless.
What’s more, Verizon is doing everything it can to coax, cajole and boot customers off their unlimited plans this summer. Unless the carriers firm up some kind of revenue sharing pact with Netflix – which Verizon may well be in the process of cementing – it looks like streaming movies is going to be primarily a Wi-Fi affair.